Reuben Butchart has worked 10-hour days before, but not like the ones leading up to the release of his sophomore album. As the elements of Butchart’s disc, “Golden Boy,” melded – the addition of orchestral components, the singer’s emotional cadence and the band’s inclusion – the New York-based singer-songwriter was exhausted by the day’s end.
“I would get home and I would drop,” Butchart recalls.
It wasn’t the type of fatigue Butchart, 37, was used to. In fact, it wasn’t even due to trivial work ordeals or stress, but, instead, the blissful intensity among the supportive musicians. The kind of “zoning” feeling that washes over a sunbather, he says, after baking on the beach.
For Butchart’s debut the musician had it made. He mixed samples and added loops at his home computer, and then he could stumble into bed. But the core of “Golden Boy” – an offbeat R&B-ish album with soul songs and mid-tempo ballads due Feb. 27 – was recorded in a studio, with some vocals added at his old apartment. The studio access allowed Butchart to generate an authentic sound – influenced by Bjork and Radiohead – that drifts from his debut’s heavily sample-based electronic beats.
He wrote the tunes on the piano, given to him by a moving friend, and with some fellow musicians he met through the New York music scene, worked out the kinks for a year and a half.
“Once I started getting back into playing the piano and writing the way that I used to write when I was in grade school it … brought up a bunch of childhood memories,” Butchart says.
Butchart’s not trying to imitate memoirist-turned-liar James Frey. Sneaking out with his sister – who inspired “Golden Boy” (which replaced “Golden Girl” for obvious reasons) – and stealing a small turtle from a local park did happen. Just not at the Russian River in California.
“It made it more epic,” he says of the tune “Cartoon Heroes.”
Not only was Butchart a turtle-stealing rebel, he also treated piano lessons – wait, what lessons? The 5-year-old was supposed to learn selections from a child-geared piano manual, like “Row, Row, Row Your Boat,” but he refused to study, do homework or practice. “It was in this conservatory,” Butchart recalls and then backpedals, “That makes it sound more uptight than it was.”
After weeding through piano teachers at the community center who rejected his unstudious style, he landed with Tom Constanten, the Grateful Dead’s original keyboardist. “At that age I had no idea who the Grateful Dead was,” he says, bashfully laughing.
Constanten knew the pop realm well and he also knew that Butchart, who created collages from other composers’ musical notations, didn’t want to practice. The keyboardist didn’t care. He knew the youngster’s passion was for composing. And so Butchart did.
In high school, the musician wrote songs – many of them sappy – with, as expected, numerous structural errors. A couple of years ago he played the recording for his boyfriend. Obviously, it’d be easy to ridicule angsty high school writing. Even Butchart admits they’re loaded with cheese.
“(But) one of the songs made him start to cry,” remembers Butchart, who says his boyfriend was responding to the tune’s conviction.
Since childhood, Butchart’s parents watered his artistic garden. His mother, the first woman in San Francisco authorized to enroll in a drafting class in junior high, never pushed specific gender roles.
Educated in alternative public schools that focused on diversity, humanism, individuality and creativity, a 6-year-old Butchart could either be found at his first piano, at a City Hall rally, or in the corner knitting mittens for stuffed animals.
“Knitting is such a huge trend right now,” he says, referencing a recent conversation he had with some buddies. “You see guys on the subway – granted they’re probably gay guys – knitting.”
When Butchart hitches a subway ride he’s preoccupied by tunes on his iPod and eye candy; but one thing’s for sure, he’s not knitting.
“Who has time to knit?” he says. “I’ve gotta rock.”
Available Feb. 27